Probiotics are healthy bacterium in your gut that help to combat their harmful counterparts and maintain your digestive system. Probiotics can even assist with chronic digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (which does not have a known cause and treatment plan). However, recent findings have revealed that the power of probiotics goes beyond digestion, and the medical world is beginning to place even more focus on probiotic research in an effort to further understand its health benefits and uses.
Keep in mind that the human body requires billions of probiotics, and store-bought products cannot fulfill your needs completely. While it is difficult to distinguish which products have the most CFU’s (colony-forming units—the measure of viable bacteria density), here are some foods that are generally known to be high in probiotics.
Yogurt and other fermented dairy products serve as optimal environments for healthy bacteria to grow. Near the ingredients label, you will find the names of the specific strands of bacteria that have been added to the yogurt. Granted, the quantity is not high enough to meet your body’s needs, but yogurt is an inexpensive and accessible product for most people. If you are looking to get the most probiotics out of your yogurt as possible, look for raw yogurt (which is not pasteurized, so more bacteria are alive). Alternatively, make your own. Just keep in mind that many yogurts contain high amounts of sugar.
Another fermented product, kefir is a “yogurt-like drink” with flavors such as blueberry, pomegranate, and strawberry. It undergoes minimal processing and pasteurization, making it a rich source of probiotics. In addition to drinking it, you can make kefir ice pops or pour it over granola in place of milk. Dairy-free individuals should look for coconut kefir as a replacement.
Another fermented drink, kombucha begins as a sugary tea that has a “SCOBY” (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) added to it. The SCOBY feeds off the sugar, transforming the tea into a fizzy, low calorie drink. In addition to being high in antioxidants, kombucha is known to detoxify and aid with gastric illnesses. Instead of drinking soda or an alcoholic beverage, choose kombucha instead. There are several flavors, it is nutritionally superior but tastes just as good as soda.
4. Fermented/pickled vegetables
Kimchi and sauerkraut are typically served to complement a meal, but do not dismiss them for their seemingly unimportant role on the dinner table. These vegetables have detoxifying properties, helping to clean out your gut through their probiotics. Commercialized brands add preservatives and artificial ingredients, so it is healthier and cheaper to make your own. Sauerkraut, for example, only requires two ingredients—cabbage and salt. Using clean hands, massage salt into sliced cabbage until it softens and releases its juices. Transfer to a sterilized jar and let it ferment for at least two weeks before you taste it.
Miso is a fermented soy paste commonly found in Asian soups. Look for low-sodium miso paste, and check the ingredient label to make sure that it is free of harmful additives like MSG (monosodium glutamate). In addition to soup, use miso as a base for a marinade or dressing. You can make miso sweet potatoes by mixing miso paste with sesame oil and tossing sweet potatoes into the mixture.
Tofu’s minimally-processed sister, tempeh appears as a firm block of tightly packed, fermented soybeans. Compared to tofu, it has more structure, making it the better ingredient to grill or bake. Its texture also resembles meat, so it’s a vegetarian ingredient that both vegetarians and meat eaters will enjoy.
7. Probiotic pills
Finally, while there are many foods that contain probiotics, some take probiotic pills to ensure high levels of intestinal flora. Those on dairy-free diets should double-check the ingredient label, as many pills are made from dairy products. In addition to taking these pills like daily vitamins, some grind up probiotic pills and add them to homemade yogurt or kefir.